Celta 2, Barça 2, aka, “YOLO, fam”

There are two kinds of switches: toggle and rheostat. We know which one Ernesto Valverde is because against Celta Vigo in their house, a place where the past two seasons, with the proper XI Barça has shipped four goals and lost both times, Valverde rotated like a carousel in a tornado.

Ter Stegen
Semedo Mina Vermaelen Digne
Gomes Paulinho Coutinho
Denis Suarez Alcacer Dembele


This lineup came out and Barça Twitter, pretty much everywhere in cyber Barça was in full meltdown.

“Too little, too late.”
“Too much rotation, why couldn’t he have … ”
“We’re going to lose. He just wants to tank the unbeaten season.”

Smart people talked about formations, while Valverde must have looked at a fidget spinner and said, “I have the perfect formation. Look at these marbles in this bowl. Now watch when I move the bowl. See?” And his assistants nodded, because that’s what you do when a crazy person starts talking. And we know he’s crazy because you just don’t do a full rotation XI at a ground where your team has lost the last two times it visited. You don’t do a rotation XI when your team is looking to make history, when you have relied on the gala XI, latched onto the same players like a limpet. You don’t do a rotation XI when you know people are sideeyeing you after the Roma loss. You might not be on Twiter, but people tell you about the hashtags.

During a Chicago Bulls/Portland Trailblazers championship series, in one game the Bulls were getting tonked. Coach Phil Jackson, figuring “Hell, we’re getting tonked anyhow, might as well rest the lads,” and subbed in the subs. Bobby Hansen is all you need to know. Who? Bobby. Hansen. A three was drained, and Portland missed. Then another three, and Portland missed. Again. A basket and suddenly a 19 point lead was hovering at single digits. Then it happened. The scrubs brought the team back, so Jackson subbed Jordan back on to finish the job. Legend.

Valverde must have wanted to etch his badass cred onto cast iron, with a laser. The bench? Messi, Suarez, Umtiti, Alba, Sergi Roberto, Cillessen, Vidal. It was banter of the highest order.

The match started, and it was as open as we have ever seen a Barça match in a very long time. Celta wanted to get at the B team, who wanted to get at Celta. And there was a lot of running around, some busy work for MOTM Ter Stegen, but it was, somehow at zeroes as Valverde patted that fidget spinner tucked away in his pocket, nodded smugly and thought, “YOLO, fam.” And then it happened:

Paulinho header off the post, off a set piece. People were still convinced that the team was going to lose, so knives were being honed in preparation for after the match. It sure was fun to see everybody running around kinda like headless chickens, and the questions persisted: why everything, all at once? Celta missed. Then Ter Stegen saved. Then it went all crazy, and you started to think that maybe, just maybe, there is something crazywonderful to this Liga season when on an attack, Alcacer one-touched a lob of a pass to Dembele, who lashed it home off the volley, across the keeper into the far corner. Improbably it was 0-1 and the bench went wild.

Dembele went over to hug his countryman Umtiti first, and there were smiles all around, even if we hadn’t yet realized that Celta signed Own Goal, whose agent somehow is able to circumvent the normal transfer rules. Yerry Mina was the culprit, after Gomes got smoked, the cross eluded Vermaelen and Mina decided, for some unfathomable reason, to spare his team the ignominy of having a Celta player score the actual goal. It was 1-1, no less than Celta deserved given the chances they had, and nobody minded much because the team was going to lose anyhow.

Then, it happened. Again. On a break, again from play that was some level beyond open, Semedo crossed to Paulinho who, in his typical “Look what I found” fashion, bundled the ball home. It was 1-2, and jaws were on the floor. Just as quickly as Semedo sprinted into space, the mood in Barçaland went from “Why did he have to rotate everybody,” to “See? This is why he should have rotated.” Because sentiment is as malleable as a wild ol’ football match.

The reasons for subbing on Messi and Sergi Roberto, only Valverde knows as the B team was hanging on and the mainline players were having a good time being spectators. Celta went into “Oh, crap!” mode, sitting deep in the presence of Messi, who almost led his team to a 1-3 lead, which would have been absurd. Then off the break, running free and easy, Sergi Roberto decided he needed more rest, taking down a Celta player from a clear scoring chance. Apparently his trust in Ter Stegen isn’t as absolute as many supporters. Straight red, and Barça was down to ten.

Still, it was all looking good until Semedo left too much space for the passer on a cross, and Mina heard “Squirrel!” and went running to a point to intercept the pass, presumably, rather than marking up on Aspas. Ter Stegen made the right play, but plunked the ball off of Aspas, who knocked it home with his arm. Clear handball for an equalizing goal that Celta deserved, but by this time it was outrageous for a fanbase that had gone from “We’re going to lose” to “Hey, we could win this.”

And after the match, the team was still unbeaten and Valverde was still suspect, even as the subs proved why they are subs and why the gala XI is thus. The gaps in quality are too significant. Denis Suarez coughed up numerous balls, almost all of which wound up as dangerous Celta scoring opportunities. Semedo is much better buttressed by the first-line defense than he is part of a wild bunch. Gomes is mercurial. Coutinho and Paulinho got work done, standouts along with Ter Stegen, who was probably wonder what the hell his “defense” was doing at many a moment. It was fun, it was awesome and it proved absolutely nothing even as football does what it does, which is race off to seek permanent solutions from temporary situations.

There is necessity in belief in the notion that the team was too tired to do anything except fiddle while Rome burned. If you believe that, then you believe that this kind of rotation during the season, the very kind of rotation that Luis Enrique was pilloried for, would have made the difference. If you watched the Roma match and wondered how the team had, in a week’s time forgotten how to play football, different notions rattled around your brain. The only thing resolved is this:

YOLO pulled out a draw at a difficult away ground. YOLO almost pulled out an improbable win, and might have had Valverde not doubted his fidget spinner muse. Sure, Celta could have scored about 48 goals, but they didn’t. Because football is a crazy game, which is probably the only conclusion that we can draw from this, aside from the subs being about as ready to make a real difference in the season as we thought they were. Oh. And football was fun again, bereft of the anxiety attendant to Barça matches, the psychic freedom that came from looking at the lineup and already knowing, an hour before the match began, that your team was going to lose, so let’s have some fun. Fun. That weird concept that has been so absent from this season as people looked for every reason to be miserable, from “The football isn’t pretty,” to taking after this or that player, looking at this or that storied convention being violated, rules etched into a stone tablet in the basement of the Museu.

And a season that has been spent mostly in a tizzy, was a hoot. For one match that brought about an improbable result. Enjoy the respite, because YOLO.

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. Valverde said after the Roma match that he was looking already at the with Valencia. This shows a lot about his own priorities.
    Many more facet of what make Valverde support the following notion.

    Valverde was always gonna be rotate heavily for this game. His priority is winning silverware. That’s the goal, his personal goal. With that in line, he was always gonna rotate.

    Lucho rotated heavily as well at Celta. We lost. The world went on fire.

    Inapt, and baffling decision made by our coach set him on collusion course, where whatever the outcome he was to be blamed.

    I was thinking before the game about the potential outcomes. If we win, the cule will say: we should have rotated from the start. If he lose, we’ll, we should have rotated That much. Always win/lose situation.

    I won’t praise the coach for the rotation simply because its in alignment with his main belief. Fear is what drove him. That’s is why he was dead frozen against Roma. With less at stake, he was very animated, during the game, waving and banging and what not…. As if its a big deal.

    I mentioned before the whole world do not know Real Sociedad record. Most long lasting football fans do not know Juventus always had unbeaten record as well, in the best, at that time, league in the world. And it was not 35 years ago.

    The best know records are made against the most formidable opponents. All else dwindles.

    Credit to the boys. They ran and ran.
    I was wondering why on earth would Messi play with whole 30min to play. Maybe this time he learned. It’s hard to say.

    1. I don’t know, Hristo. Across here everybody knows about the Arsenal “invincibles” . It’s regarded as a pretty big deal.

      Not close to a treble I agree but I actually think that’d be a pretty good way to say cheerio to Iniesta. A double and an unbeaten season. That’s something to tell the grandchildren !

    2. Do we speak Italian here? No. And at that time English became the dominant culturally accepted – language.
      It came at a time when PL overtook the Italian league as the most dominant and was cheddar league in the world. Just in the turn of the century, as technology took over, mass information distribution and what not. When they did it went vital all over the world in seconds. It was in English, everybody knew it. With h Henry, the best player in the world.

      And it was not Juventus but AC Milan, in their 90s Dutch team.

      Winning the CL twice is considered extremely valuable achievement.. No team has done it in 30 years. If RM win they will dwindle a potential unbeaten run. I don’t think it matters much to the team. RM snapped our previous run, they most likely, do it, not because we can win, but because, when the league is won, a record has much less meaning. With the world cup coming everybody will be careful

  2. Great piece as always Kevin. Only one correction – second Barca goal came four minutes after Messi was on and probably a direct result of his overall affect.

  3. Kevin, sorry, didnt the second goal happened after Messi and Sergi came in. In fact it happened immediately as a result of Celta getting Messiphobic.

  4. We win games we had no business winning, and lose game we had no business losing.
    Valverde is clearly jinxed.

    1. I think this sums up our season the best (though we also won a lot of games we had no business losing).

  5. I think the next generations will have a say whether going unbeaten for entire season was worth it or no.
    The fact that no team has ever done in La liga says something.
    Anyway, we are still far from it, let’s see how the season ends first.

  6. Can football be fun again?! Really hope so. For some reason, the pressure exerted on boards, managers and players found its way into the fans’ hearts in the form of fear, trepidation and resentment. Before Twitter, multi-million-dollar paychecks, astronomical transfer fees and powerful and greedy agents, watching a game was a rendez-vous with excitement, joy, disappointment or sadness. Today, the game has mutated into an exercise that brings the worst in us. We can’t even watch games with people who cheer for the other team or merely disagree with our game assessment. One recent scene that comes to mind is the attack on Man City bus by Liverpool fans. Frequent racist chants in European stadiums is another example. Just looking at the reaction to our defeat in Rome, one would think that some of us wanted Valverde hung in public. No wonder that Marco Van Basten, one of the finest players (artists) that I have watched, decided to prematurely end his coaching career, invoking stress and pressure. He chose to share his love for football in more positive ways. No wonder that some of us miss the days when football was not played professionally.

  7. What i would do in summer,extreme make over.
    Semedo out Odriozola in.
    Digne out a young quality LB with great technique in.
    Lenglet and another CB in.
    Mina on loan to a Liga team.
    MF:Andre,Denis out.Iniesta will go it seems
    Alena promoted,Arthur will come in January.
    So i would sign 2 young quality MF.
    My choices Weigl and Fabian Ruiz.
    FW:If Griezmann come i would sell Suarez and try to find a young quality LW.

  8. Semedo is fast but he have many flaws to his game.Maybe he needs another year to fix that but i dont know if the team have the luxury to wait.
    Dembele also must learn a lot things but he is talented.
    Maybe i am harsh but the team must have players ready to fight for a place,with the quality and mentality to be starters in every game and not only vs weak teams.
    If Masia had more ready players i would be happy to promote more but except Alena there are nt anyone who can be a back up.
    Oriol Busquets is good but he needs 1-2 seasons to grow more.

    1. Semedo plays 80% of his games very well.
      He is often paired with different CB. And often does not have support.
      Umtiti made so many mistakes in few games that it makes Semedos mistakes almost insignificant.
      Against Roma he missed his marker. In that situation he had the disadvantage. Once the opposing player left Semedo was always trailing from where the ball is coming

  9. While the starting lineup did lower the expectations, it didn’t stop my anxiety induced fidgeting for 93 minutes. Go figure. For an entire hour the team looked like someone flailing their arms and legs about, trying not to fall off a narrow beam. I guess Valverde had enough of that, as I did, and decided to give the troupe a balancing pole in the form of Messi and Sergi Roberto. That proved a good call as we got the second goal a few minutes later. But then, SR decided to make the pole shorter on one side… Let’s just say I was looking up a lot and feeling immense gratitude with a draw after that red card..

    Celta were unlucky, or we were lucky, or it was a bit of both, or maybe, Celta aren’t good enough even against a largely Bench Barca. Who knows, although they are sitting pretty in 9th place, so there must be a reason, or multiple reasons for that, right? We’re just not sure of what those reasons are. Meanwhile, we keep NOT losing in La Liga even though we just had our collective butt handed to us in Rome. If only we could be sure of why that is… would we feel better?

  10. Well.. I guess its all settled.. We beat deportivo and the invisible is achieved even before el classico… Atleti just let themselves down.. #Valverdestays

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